Fora Dilma, Fora Temer: Who do Brazilians want?

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, September 6, 2016

 

With Dilma out of power and Temer struggling to lead the country out of recession, Brazilians seem more certain about what they do not want than about what kind of leader they need for the future.

 

The Brazilian Senate’s decision to remove Dilma Rousseff from the presidency ended a process that no Brazilian can feel proud about. The confirmation of Michel Temer as President until December 31, 2018 gives the government an opportunity to begin implementing much needed reforms to help the country get back on the path of economic growth, poverty reduction and expansion of rights. However, the wounds left by the impeachment process against Dilma might also end up costing President Temer dearly. A large number of Brazilians consider his government illegitimate and, given there are only 24 months before a new president is elected, Temer has an uphill path ahead. Brazilians who grew increasingly discontent with Dilma’s leadership will not be easily seduced by Temer.

 

The impeachment process and Dilma’s subsequent removal from office has left many open wounds. This past weekend, hundreds of thousands marched in different cities in opposition to Dilma’s ouster. Supporters of the Workers’ Party (PT) argue that the Brazilian Congress disrespected the choice made by 54.5 million voters who re-elected Dilma in October of 2014. Supporters of the impeachment argue that the occasion showed that people no longer tolerate corruption and that Brazilians institutions are strong and independent. Many Brazilians who are undecided over the legitimacy of the impeachment fear that the political class is fighting over who will lead the train headed to the cliff rather than trying to find a compromise to stop the train before the wreck.

 

The intellectual elite has also been polarized by the Senate’s decision. Reasonable civil society leaders with impeccable democratic trajectory disagree over the legitimacy of the arguments used to impeach Dilma. Since many of those championing the removal are personally involved in other corruption scandals, their alleged commitment to probity can be considered disingenuous at best. On the other hand, the fact that the corruption scandals have so deeply hit the left-wing PT, the legitimacy of formerly highly respected leaders has been put into question. Even former president Lula, who was until recently widely considered one of the most admirable leaders in South America, has been tainted by corruption accusations.

 

President Temer faces tough challenges ahead. In addition to needing to jumpstart the economy, Temer must also cut spending to put the fiscal house back in sound footing. Since he is the leader of the PMDB — the party most closely associated to patronage and clientelism —, Temer will not find it easy to put the interests of the nation ahead of the interests of the political coalition that brought him to power by removing Dilma from the presidency. Moreover, since he lacks the charisma — and votes — there will be no honeymoon period to turn the country around. As he has been the interim President since May, many Brazilians are already losing patience as there are only few signs that the economy is making a turn in the right direction.

 

Before being impeached, Dilma unsuccessfully sought to work out a compromise to call for fresh presidential elections. Dilma’s strategy partly failed because neither her Workers’ Party nor the opposition believed that they would have attractive candidates to appeal an electorate that increasingly sees politicians as part of the problem rather than the leaders who can help find a solution.

 

Yet, a presidential contest will inevitably take place in October 2018. Then, both the now PT opposition and the ruling centre-right coalition will struggle to find new faces that are not associated to corruption scandals and can offer a credible plan to lead the country for the next four years. Older and experienced politicians have all been tainted by the corruption scandals and the controversial impeachment against Dilma. With Temer as president, the former opposition will now also be held responsible for the downturn in the economy. Incapable of fostering the rise of new leaders, the traditional parties that have dominated politics in Brazil are more likely to hear “fora Temer” and “fora Dilma” (out with Temer and out with Dilma) chants than sings of approval from discontent Brazilians. With the political class hitting rock bottom popularity, many are looking elsewhere for future political leaders. Sergio Moro, the judge who has led the Lava Jato corruption scandal, and Marina Silva, a former minister and presidential candidate of humble origins who broke with the PT in 2010, are among the most popular leaders in the country. Their popularity seems to say that Brazilians are prepared to look into candidates out of the the political elite as possible presidential contenders for 2018. Though there are obvious risks involved in electing newcomers and political outsiders, the spectacle presented by that career politicians might induce Brazilians to give newcomers a chance.